Debt

Do You Want a Free Credit Report?

Anytime you hear the word “Free” there is usually a catch and the free item isn’t really free. Surprisingly, you can receive a free credit report by doing this:

Type annualcreditreport.com into your browser, click on “Request your free credit reports,” and start the process. It will take you less than 10 minutes and it is completely free. Federal law requires each of the three consumer credit reporting companies, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, to give you a free credit report every 12 months if you request it. Technically, you can receive 3 each year if you obtain one from a different credit reporting company every 4 months.

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Wanna Be More Comfortable Financially?

Isn’t this what everyone says, that they want to be more comfortable financially? There are two ironies that are common with this thought, but you can do something about it.

Scenario #1

In this scenario you are making a good living, saving plenty, built up a good portfolio of assets, and have little to no debts. You should feel secure and comfortable, but yet you do not. Due to the fact that finances are very, very emotions based would be the reason for this, but I’ll let the psychologists figure out the exact reason. Whatever the reason may be, there may be two solutions to help change your perspective in this case: be thankful for your strong finances and be more generous with your giving. Remember, you can’t take it with you at the end, and there are others that can use some help right now.

Scenario #2

This is probably a more common scenario, but also relates to everything else in life. You need to make more money, save more, pay off your debts, and make your finances more secure and comfortable. Ironically, every action you take is in direct contradiction to obtaining healthier finances, from impulsive spending, failing to save, purchasing on credit, and a lack of serious actions to make more money. Maybe the reason is because you’re getting by, although not in a financially healthy manner, or maybe you feel like you are being restricted if you save a purchase for another day. Either way, it’s not working out well and you need to make changes. Even if the changes are very, very small changes, such as saving just 1% of your income, you will be surprised by how effective this can be to get the momentum going.

Last Thought

I’m not sure which scenario is better or which one is easier to fix. Would you rather think you are not financially comfortable, but really are, or not be comfortable, but prevent yourself from getting there?

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Why You Shouldn’t Sell Your First Home

The common scenario is this: purchase a small, starter home and then move after 5 to 10 years into another, much larger home. But is this a prudent move or are there other options?

There is one, largely overlooked option, that can have a great financial impact on your finances. The option is to move and then rent out your existing home. There are times when this makes sense, and other times when it doesn’t.

Makes sense: It makes sense to rent our your first home if the following are true:

  1. You have the funds for a down payment on a new home or you can access the equity of your home without getting too deep into debt. A combination of the two may be used also.
  2. The expected rent is greater than the expected expenses
  3. It will be easy to find a renter
  4. There is a strong possibility of continued appreciation of your first home
  5. You do not mind being a landlord
  6. You have a small cushion for times of vacancy, and are in a strong position financially

Doesn’t make sense: It doesn’t make sense to rent out your first home if the following are true:

  1. You do not have the funds for a down payment on a new home
  2. There is not much equity in your old home
  3. The expected rent is less than the expected expenses
  4. It will be difficult to find a renter
  5. The expected appreciation is either very low or the first home may depreciate
  6. You do not want to be a landlord. However, I challenge this assumption, because there are always things that you do not want to do but should do them anyway.
  7. Your financial situation is in turmoil

What’s interesting to note is that most people who sell their homes do not think of how much the transaction costs can be, especially as a percentage of the selling price or equity, until they are in the sales process. I do not mean that costs are hidden, but the costs are not factored into the equation when wanting to sell a house. Additionally, when you sell your first home, you most likely have to repair several items that can costs thousands of dollars that you do not realize the benefit of.

If you want to get ahead financially, you usually have to not do what everyone else is doing and take prudent chances. Part of prudence is to look at the worst case scenario. If the worst case scenario is that renting your first home has become a nightmare, then just sell it and move on.

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Are You Thankful for What You Accomplished?

Happy Thanksgiving! We should always be thankful for everything in our lives, including people, things, and accomplishments. Sometimes we take our accomplishments for granted, and it is good to examine the past to see just how far you have come. Here are some examples:

New home: Whether you just purchased your first home or moved into a more accommodating new home, this is quite an accomplishment.

Paid down debts: Did you significantly reduce your debts or pay them off? For some, if your debt levels have stabilized, this too is an accomplishment.

Started a business: Taking the leap to start a new business is exhilarating and quite an accomplishment.

Expanded your business: Did you open another location, hire additional employees, or increase your sales a sizable amount compared to the prior year? These activities all take time and energy and are a huge accomplishment.

Charitable giving: Has your charitable giving increased compared to the year before? If so, then excellent, but if it hasn’t, maybe it has increased as a percentage of your income if your income went down.

Increased your savings: Even saving just 1% more of your income than you did the prior year will have an enormous impact on your finances if you continue to do this each year.

Worked less: Are you working just a few less hours than you used to? A few less hours each week can make a big difference in your life.

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Instead of Taking out More Debt, Do This Instead

One of the first ways most people try to cover a financial shortfall is to incur more debt. Whether this is to support a struggling business or even on a personal level. This may be a solution in some cases or may be used in conjunction with other financial methods. However, there is another solution that may work to solve your shortfall.

Reason for shortfall: Simply put, there will be a shortfall when your income is less than your expenses. Sometimes this is temporary or seasonal and you may be able to predict a shortfall based on business patterns.

The debt solution: Usually, most businesses turn to debt to smooth out the shortfalls. While this may be a viable solution, it should be well though-out and other options should be explored.

Alternative solutions: Aside from needing funds to support a large purchase, if your income is not enough to cover your expenses then instead of first choosing debt, here are a few other options:

Sales: Focus on increasing your sales. An increase in sales will help to increase your bottom line results. Will your expenses increase as a result? Most likely yes, but so should your profit. Aside from industries that have a poor cash conversion cycle, which is a topic all by itself, the additional business activity should help to offset your financial shortfalls.

Expenses: Small businesses should always be conscious of what they are spending their money on. Based on observation, small businesses do not usually spend their money excessively, but they may spend allocate it to areas of their business that do not generate a benefit, such as poorly spent advertising dollars.

Profitability by service/product/client: It may come as a surprise, but most likely there are several aspects of your business that are really not that profitable or may not be profitable at all. If that is the case, then by eliminating these activities your profits will increase as you can focus on increasing sales of higher profit services.

Don’t always go for the “easy” solution, but perhaps a simple, more sweat-producing, long-term solution to help the finances of your business.

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Use the Snowball Effect to Get Better Financial Results

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a snowball effect is a situation in which something increases in size or importance at a faster and faster rate. It sounds too simple and general, but it is a useful principle that can be used to achieve significant results over time. Practical examples of this are as follows, along with how the opposite can also be true:

Savings/Investments: Do you find it hard to save or invest? Start with saving just the smallest amount possible and then build upon there. For example, if you start with a small percentage, such as 2% and increase it by 2% each year, then within 5 years you will be investing 10% of your income. If you are unable to save at all, then you need to either increase your income, decrease your expenses, or possibly do both.

Paying off debt: Want to pay off your personal and business debts quickly? Allocate a small percentage of your income towards paying off your balances, starting with the smallest balance first. Once you have paid off the smallest balance, then use those payments towards the next largest balance. If you start with the largest balance then you will lose the moment due to a lack of sense of achievement.

Increasing your income:  If you increase your income by 10% per year, then it will double in about 7 years and in approximately 5 years if you increase it by 15% per year. Even more modest increases can make an impact over time. Small actions, such as allocating a consistent amount of your time and resources to increase your business volume will add up significantly over time. For example, that one extra phone call (made or received), blog post, additional employee hired, etc. matters. For a multitude of tips, search prior blog posts.

Avoid this approach: Most people want instant results and because of this they either stop too soon or start too strong in an unsustainable manner. There is nothing wrong with strong approaches, but it must be sustainable over the long-term. All you have to do is apply this approach to weight loss and fitness and see how many of your friends and family start an exercise program and eat extremely healthy and then stop after a few months. It is hard to go from no exercise to spending an hour and a half 5 days a week exercising.

Over time your results will get better and better, but give it time to be productive. Think of your actions as planting a fruit tree, as it will take time to bear fruit.

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A Silly Trap When Trying to Pay Off Debt

I have had numerous clients tell me that they are paying off their debts early, whether it is a student loan, car loan or mortgage, which is very admirable. However, they really aren’t paying off their loans early. How can this be and why?

The reason is simple. They are not actually paying off their debts, but prepaying their regular monthly payments. The assumption is that if you make extra payments then those extra payments will go directly towards principal, which in essence will reduce your loan balance. It sounds logical, but usually the loan company will apply these payments towards future bills, so in reality no extra principal is being paid. They are just considered prepayments.

One way of determining if your extra payments are being applied properly is to look at your current monthly statement to see if your payment amount is either -0- or shows a lower amount than normal. If this is the case, then your extra payments are not being applied towards principal.

The proper way and easiest way to ensure that your extra principal payments are being applied correctly is to specify that your extra payment should be applied towards principal. It is best to do this online and then check your activity once the payment settles to confirm this.

It’s not right, but when it comes to finances you must be extra careful and do not make any assumptions!

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Is Debt Good or Bad?

What are we to believe? Is debt good or bad? On one extreme are some financial pundits that say to go into debt and use other people’s money to make money, and on the other extreme are experts that believe that any form of debt is bad. Who should we listen to?

Ignoring the rare exceptions, most successful people have incurred some form of debt either personally or through their business, and if they did not incur this debt then they would most likely not be in the position that they are in currently, even if they have now paid off all of their debts. Let’s look at some pros and cons.

Pros of debts: Without incurring debts, virtually no one in this expensive area would be able to purchase a house. If you were debt averse and had to save up for your house to pay cash, then you may never get there. If a $500,000 house appreciates by 3% per year on average (let’s ignore significant ups and downs to keep the point simple), then just one year later you would need to save an additional $15,000 to purchase your home. You may never get there.

If you want to expand your business or start a new one and need capital to build out your office or purchase equipment, then a loan is most likely needed. Even the best savers have a hard time saving up the significant sum that is needed to do so. The same applies to investment properties.

Unfortunately, you most likely need to incur some debt to finance college or purchase a vehicle.

Cons of debt: Debt is not without risk and I am a big proponent of proceeding cautiously and wisely when incurring debt. Here are several pitfalls of debt:

Over leveraged: If you incur too much debt than you may not able to meet your payment obligations. This is especially true if and when there is a slow down in the economy and/or your business. Think of debt payments as taking from your future income, but you really never know what your future income will be. If you find yourself with tons of debt then you need to closely examine your spending and look for ways to increase your income.

Increases risk: Debt amplifies the risk of any financial endeavor due to a decrease in cash flow from making debt payments and the financial obligation of the debt. Most debt is personally guaranteed, even if it is for business. Trust me when I say that a bank owns you when you take out an SBA loan. They may even put a lien on your children, but that may just be a rumor.

Makes you spend more (much more): Surprisingly, this isn’t mentioned too often as most people only consider the monthly payments, interest rate, and length of a loan. However, debt makes you less cautious when spending and investing money, even if it is for something productive, such as  purchasing equipment for your business or buying rental properties. The end result is that you wind up spending more than you anticipated. Why do you think so many companies offer enticing payment plans for just about everything? If you have the resources to pay cash, then it probably makes sense to do so.

Increases costs: Even loans with low interest rates increase your costs due to both interest and fees, which can be very significant.

As you progress on your financial journey, then a noble goal is to become debt free. Ideally, you should try to avoid debt when possible, but it may provide you with a much needed boost to get you started. Just do not over do it.

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How to Prepare for & Prosper from the Next Recession

We are currently in one of the longest economic recoveries ever recorded. That is excellent news, but on the flip side, we are due for a recession. Who knows when that will happen, but there are steps to take to prepare yourself and possibly take advantage of any future downturns:

Don’t Live on the Edge: Before making a major purchase or change in your life, calculate the costs and risks of your actions. For example, before you assume that you will purchase a fixer upper, make massive improvements, then resell it for a large profit, you should calculate different scenarios. Instead of just looking at the best case scenario, calculate a likely outcome and then also a worse case scenario. If you won’t be able to handle the worse case scenario, then may be you should pass up the opportunity. Don’t take my word for it, but try to remember what happened during the last recession.

Build Up Cash: Sometimes cash makes people anxious  as they feel that it is just sitting there practically earning nothing ,and they are missing out on appreciation from the stock market or some other investment. Be patient and know that if your income gets cut in half or you lose your job and collect the paltry amount of unemployment benefits, then you will have a cushion. On a positive note, when there are downturns in the economy it tends to present itself with opportunities to purchase real estate at a discount, buy a business,  or to invest in the stock market at depressed prices, which all increase your returns.

Pay Down Debts: The lower your debts, the lower your risk, and the more cash flow you have available. You’d be surprised by how much less income you need to live if you eliminated some debts.

Line of Credit: If you don’t have a large cash cushion or don’t see one in the near future, then a line of credit can be a good second option. The caveat though is to make sure that you use it wisely and don’t overspend just because you know that you have access to funds.

Market Your Business and Yourself: Employees should be prepared by having their resumes updated and keeping in contact with their network. Business owners should continue to market their business for two reasons: First, if they increase profits then they will be able to weather the downturn better both before and during. Second, many businesses reduce marketing when there is a downturn, but if you increase marketing then you will stick out and increase your chances of prospering during the downturn.

All of these tips can help you to survive a recession, and they can also be applied even if there isn’t a recession. Don’t be afraid.

Don’t Be a Co-Signer Unless You Want to Pay Someone Else’s Debts

Your friend, child, brother, or parent can’t get a mortgage or a car loan so they ask you to be a co-signer. Of course you will be a hero and co-sign for your loved one! But beware of the dangers before doing so.

In reality, the lender is assuming that the odds are fairly high that there will be a default on the loan, otherwise, why would they need someone else to co-sign on the loan? There are certainly many situations that the loan never goes bad, but why take such a chance? Consider this:

If the borrower defaults on the loan, then your credit will take a hit because you are personally responsible for the loan. The lender may also come after you for payments on a loan that you never benefited from. Actually, you had almost all of the risk without any real benefit.

If you are familiar with Murphy’s law, then you know that what can happen will happen. So, what if you are ready to obtain a mortgage or finance a car and then find out that the loan you co-signed went bad? You may not qualify for the loan for yourself or the terms may not be as favorable as they were originally.

One last item to consider is the damage to the relationship once a co-signed loan goes bad. As Polonius said over 400 years ago in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be; For loan oft loses both itself and friend . . .” Even thousands of years before Shakespeare numerous bible versus were also written to warn against co-signing such as Proverbs 22:26-27 and Sirach 29:16-18.